Citadel Theatre continues its 2016-17 season with Elemeno Pea, written by Molly Smith Metzler and directed by Ellen Phelps. Set in a vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard, Elemeno Pea tells the story of two sisters from a working-class family in Buffalo; one has stayed true to her roots, while the other works for a wealthy woman in a personal assistant position that has eclipsed her entire lifestyle. The two sisters struggle to reconnect in the face of their wildly different lives, while the affluent Michaela’s marriage explodes around them. Witty, hilarious, and poignant, Elemeno Pea speaks to struggles of class and human connection in deeply insightful ways.
Sisters Simone and Devon are delighted to finally spend some time together after Simone’s work schedule keeps them apart for six months. Their weekend in paradise quickly falls apart, however, as the two butt heads over their markedly different lifestyles. Even worse, Simone’s boss Michaela returns to the summer home in the midst of a crisis, and the unsuspecting Devon is sucked into something much larger than herself as she fights against increasing chaos to simply spend some time with her sister.
The acting in this production is outstanding. Although Simone is the connective tissue of the story, Devon is its heart, and Maggie Kettering brings intelligence, nuance, and guts to the character, who goes on one hell of an emotional journey through the course of the story. Kettering brings each one of Devon’s widely varied emotional moments to vivid and compelling life.
Opposite her is Sarah Hecht as Simone; Hecht captures both Simone’s airy, sometimes kooky pseudo-rich girl façade and her sincere humanity with equal skill, making her a more than worthy scene partner for Kettering. Grayson Heyl is superb as Michaela, creating an overwhelming presence of airheaded hysteria with her first entrance but revealing sharp ambition and, ultimately, vulnerability in her character in the story progresses.
Nic Fantl is brilliant as Simone’s obnoxious, self-centered boyfriend Ethan; his every word and action ooze with privilege and the immature affect of the wealthy boat enthusiast. Ray Andrecheck is a delightful comedic presence as Jose B., fully embracing both his character’s unapologetic hatred of his bosses and his cheesy, insincere banter with Michaela so thoroughly as to leave the audience in stitches.
Of course, some of the credit for these excellent performances must also be given to the script, which is smart, funny, and deeply moving. Metzler’s characters are exaggerated caricatures in some ways, but they have human hearts, and the story itself is both surprising and deeply relatable. The story veers at times from the central conflict--that of Devon and Simone--but the emotional payoff of the final scenes is more than worth the detour. Perhaps the only significant flaw in the script is the title, which is connected to Devon and Simone but which fails to capture the spirit of the story overall, especially as its significance to the two sisters is only ever partially explained.
Still, the script’s compassionate treatment of all its characters--from the bitter Jose B. to the bright-eyed, ambitious Simone--is the show’s greatest strength. For all that Ethan and Jose B. play important roles in the storytelling, the story is, at its heart, about women--the connections between women, the choices women have to make between career paths and love, the ways that wanting children affects women’s experiences. In this way, Citadel Theatre contributes to a wider cultural push toward broadening the scope of voices being amplified in theatre and bringing the experiences of women front and center.
The design work for this production isn’t particularly impressive. Scenic design by Eric Luchen does an adequate job of representing the living room of the Martha’s Vineyard home, but hardly drips with wealth or extravagance, and certainly not with any kind of symbolic resonance. A wrinkled cyc represents the beach beyond the house, but lighting effects by Emma Magrady aren’t enough to really create the seaside atmosphere. Costumes by Katherine Pavlovna Goldberg are more effective at establishing world and character; even if the characters had never spoken a word, it would be easy to distinguish their class and personality just from a glance.
Elemeno Pea is a well-written, well-acted comedy that addresses issues fundamental to all of us--class conflict and family relationships. With its colorful cast of characters and action-packed plot, Elemeno Pea is a captivating whirlwind of a performance that is absolutely worth the cost of admission.
Location: Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd, Lake Forest
Dates: February 3 – March 5, 2017
Times: Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm
Wednesdays February 8 & 22 at 11am.
Tickets: Weekdays & Matinees $35, Weekends $38.
Discounts available for Seniors, Students, and for Groups of 10 or more.
Tickets are available online at the Citadel Theatre website or over the phone by calling the Citadel Theatre box office at 847.735.8554.
All photos are from the North Shore Camera Club.